IRREDEEMABLE ANT-MAN #1
It's been a few years since I last read "Irredeemable Ant-Man" (2006) #1, but I remember it as a series I liked a lot. Looking back on it now, my feelings for the book haven't changed. With the movie possibilities for the character keeping him in the spotlight, it seems like a review of this series will always be timely.
For those who don't remember the year-long series, it was Robert Kirkman's creative high point of his relatively short tenure at the House of Ideas. It didn't look that way on the sales charts, but it was an uninterrupted twelve issue run that took the character in a brand new direction that linked into the current crossover events of the day without being distracting. The art from Phil Hester and Ande Parks -- not that long after their well-received run on DC's "Green Arrow" with Kevin Smith and Brad Meltzer -- fit in beautifully, packing a lot of material on every page with ease.
Those dense pages are the first things that stands out about the series to a first-time reader. Hester went with 16 panel pages in a four by four grid. Very few people outside of Frank Miller in "The Dark Knight Returns" have attempted that kind of thing, and this series is the only other time I can think of where it worked for longer than an issue. Kirkman devised a dense comic here, filled with talking heads but not without its fair share of full page and double page splashes. When the artwork does open up, it feels more dramatic. A big splash of the Helicarrier looks more epic when packed between 16-panel pages. That initial burst out from the claustrophobia of tight panels feels like a relief.
Phil Hester knows how to handle such a tight set of pages, too. He simplifies them greatly, with lots of close-ups and talking heads, but never in a way that sacrifices the clarity of the storytelling. It's not a cheat to not draw backgrounds when there's legitimately no room for them. He does draw them to set up a scene, but then closes in tighter to focus on the facial expressions and gestures. You can say a lot with a characters' eyes, and this book is a good example of that.
Props also to Rus Wooton for his stylistic lettering. The balloons dance between panels, often knocking out panel borders and giving the book a slick and readable look. I never had problems following the dialogue, even on pages with multiple people speaking over each other.
And Bill Crabtree's colors are vibrant. There's clear separation between foreground and background, with no overbearing muddiness to make a book look "real" at the cost of clarity. The book is a pleasure to read, no matter what the lighting conditions in the room are. You can still see the art, which is something too many colorists can't handle properly.
The first issue introduces a half dozen new characters right off the top. These are S.H.I.E.L.D. grunts, whose poker night conversation includes speculation as to whether Nick Fury is real or just a recruiting tool to make people want to work for some really cool guy that nobody ever sees. Eric O'Grady and Chris McCarthy are bottom-rung workers, staring at hours of daily footage looking for bad guys. They hope to become more active agents. Already, this sounds like the start of a television series that ABC might want to consider buying. Hmmm...
The story drifts along between the chaotic crossover-prone Marvel Universe, with references to a few seemingly random events from today's removed point of view. "Wolverine: Enemy of the State" seems to be the major reference. It doesn't detract from the story nor guide it in any way. This is a book that stands well on its own, but without ignoring the "main" Marvel Universe. It's a nice trick to pull off, though a full-on crossover might have helped sales more. Pity. (By the second half of the run, the book ties more into current Marvel events. It still wasn't enough.)
Anyway, when the lead characters are given a chance to play security guards outside a room on the Helicarrier, their own lack of confidence and preparedness get the best of them. It's a funny page where the pair try to determine if they're securing the door from what's inside of it or what might come out. When Henry Pym -- again these days a center of the Marvel Universe -- comes out, Eric's instincts take over, he knocks him out, and the weirdness begins.
Eric O'Grady isn't entirely a sympathetic character. In fact, he's a jerk. (The "Irredeemable" is in the title for a reason...) He lies to his best friend's girlfriend -- whom he had been rebuffed by earlier -- to get her to drop him. He's a bit self-centered. And, as the series goes on, he becomes even more obsessed with his own powers and using it to benefit mostly himself. The opening scene of the issue takes place in a city alley, where he breaks up an attempted rape/murder/purse snatching before asking the victim out for dinner that night. Awkward? You bet, and Hester and Parks do a great job portraying that with all the subtleties of a restrained movie actor.
This book could easily have devolved into slapstick comedy. And while Kirkman does get his share of laughs in, the book is played straight, with a ground level view of the Marvel Universe's most powerful secret agency and all the weirdness that it entails. If you liked the sense of humor of the "Iron Man" movies, you'll find something to like here.
"Irredeemable Ant-Man" #1 feels like an early Skybound title. Check out the creative team on it. Obviously, Kirkman is writing. The book's penciler, Phil Hester, is now the author of "The Invincible Universe." Bill Crabtree handles the colors here as he did the earlier issues of "Invincible," and long-time Kirkman lettering fave, Rus Wooton, is manning Adobe Illustrator for this series, as well. I'm half surprised Kirkman didn't raid an assistant editor from the series for Skybound.
All twelve issues are available for digital download, and the book did originally come out in a couple of trades or all together in one that you might be able to track down.
"AVENGERS VS. X-MEN" #1
I've been reading a lot of "wordy" comics recently. Looking at these free first issues, I've been drawn to books closer to 20 years old than today. Comic storytelling was different then. There was more on the page. Things were often over-written, sure, but it did seem like more of an effort was made to tell clean one issue stories with lots of things packed onto the page to fit it all in. So when I read "Avengers Versus X-Men" #1 this weekend, I was amazed by how thin it felt. The first five pages, alone, is of the Phoenix Force swooping in and wiping out a farming neighborhood before heading off world. It's impressive special effects stuff. John Romita Jr. excels at drawing clouds of smoke and he's pretty good at fiery creatures leveling planets, too. But two double page spreads in a row of that? Later action pieces weren't much better, minimizing balloons and focusing on big splash images. I think I made it halfway through the issue in thirty seconds. A series of chatty pages follows and so the second half ends stronger, but the overall feel is that there's not much to read there.
John Romita Jr.'s art is inconsistent. He excels at the special effects stuff but the characters seem to shift shapes throughout the issue. Heads get too big on some panels. Bodies shrink up. There are a lot of bored-looking faces. And some arm motions look terribly stunted. When Cyclops points at Captain America, you wonder where the rest of his arm went or why his elbow is tucked so far into his rib cage.
Laura Martin adds a lot to the colorful book with her hues, particularly in the opening scene in New York City. It takes place during the most spectacular orange/purple Golden Hour near sunset that you could ever ask for. I bet every camera in the city was pointed up to the sky that night, even before Nova crashed to earth, taking out the tip of the Chrysler building and an airplane at the same time. There's sure to be raw footage from iPhones and point-and-shoot cameras looping on the Marvel Universe 24 Hour News Network for days afterwards.
The comic winds up being short, but pithy. Get in, bring in the big scary bad guy/girl, and start the internal warfare. As a monthly series, that might have proved unworkable, but the bi-weekly pace likely made it slightly more tolerable. I'm sticking to my guns with crossover books like these, though. My buying practice is to wait for the hardcover collection and go with that. Read it all at once. It loses something, most likely, from having been spoiled to death in the months that it ran, but I much prefer reading complete stories in one or two sittings these days over monthly serializations.
And, man, Cyclops is a big fat jerk, isn't he?
So while this first issue has its shortcomings, the creator list for the series is strong, and I do remain curious about the big events at Marvel. I'll definitely pick up the rest of this story in one format or another someday.
This digital first issue comes packaged with the "Nova" short that kicked off the Infinite Comics line of Marvel's digital comics. I'm guessing this worked better on a website than it does through the comiXology reader, though. While I could see what they were going for -- dragging out single panels into three discrete chunks to create motion or timing in the mind of the reader -- the way comiXology slides the new page in from the side of the screen destroys that entire illusion. Instead, it felt frustrating to not see whole pages at a time, and the little tricks of the page were lost.
I'm glad I got the story and I loved Stuart Immonen's art, but the final effect wasn't strong. Also, the credits on the final page disappear an instant after they appear, so I had to search the CBR archives to remind me that Mark Waid wrote the story. The comic, itself, was announced at SXSW last year, where Marvel returned this year to announce their brief #1s promotion.
Since that completes a loop, we might as well end the column here. One last thing along those lines: Remember that short-lived Bendis vs. Kirkman feud over how to have comics success without the Big Two? Can you believe that was five years ago already?